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Architectural Absence
Firmness, Commodity, and Delight: A, C, E, G, I, L, V

A small shrine nominated, to the Académie Québécoise, in the category of official sacramental profanity.

Father Rossetti droned the Latin prayers in his rough voice. Curls of cold smoky dust undulated about the podium. Years ago, Gregory’s grandmother had forced him to become an altar boy. His parents—especially his father, who still, in his late forties, called himself an “ex-Catholic”—objected, but did not suspect the utility of the knowledge on their son’s first Thanksgiving home from college, when he would bury them. Something about rain and deer.
      Mourners flooded the church in rivers. His parents were beloved local architects who taught at the university. Gregory asked Mamie if she wanted to take the bodies to the cemetery in Saguenay, three hours north of Québec, but she refused, and so the Bouchard family plot of Pittsburgh began at the tomb for the “other” Bouchards, the last of whom died in 1908.
      Before shutting the leaden doors he went to check for strays. A long, languid girl, barefoot in the crunchy dewdropped grass, wearing a black dress and coat, leaned against a tree, with a textbook propped against her boots. She showed no signs of moving from where she was.



Draped feminine columnar forms carved of stone, returning to Earth like the walnut trees.

The train to Edinburgh was delayed. Yuliya crossed Euston Road and lay in the damp grass in front of St. Pancras Parish, gazing upward at the elegant grieving women, weighted by the burden of holding up the entablature for two hundred years. Long ago, she would breathe deep green and nap in the soft mossy churchyard of Holy New Martyrs and Confessors.
      Waking, she rubbed the sleep from her eyes and smudged blood on her index finger. In a compact mirror she saw a tiny, sharp cut at the separation between her eye socket and cheekbone. She looked around for glass.
      Eventually she bumped into a young man, sketching. He asked: “Are you all right?”
      “I fell asleep in the grass and nicked myself,” she said.
      “Have this napkin. I eat in a feral manner. Do you want me to walk you to the A&E?”
      “No,” she said, laughing. He went back to the drawing. She turned around to look at the columns again, and knew she could never be Woman, like that.


Egg-and-dart molding

An oval form followed by an arrowlike form, in repetition, to birth birds and armies.

Yuliya worked illegally at a café in Bloomsbury after her placement ended. Two men, one with curly dark hair and his friend, a most ovoid figure—naked egg-shaped head, round belly, oval spectacles—came to the counter and ordered omelets with chips.
      “They’re so phallic and invasive,” said the dark-haired one of the moldings from the Erechtheion at the British Museum. “No coincidence, is it?”
      “I hope not. Sperm-meets-egg. Onwards and upwards.”
      Afterwards Yuliya took their plates and spilled the last dregs of yolky grease in the lap of the Erectheion-phobe. “Christ.”
      “It’s cotton,” he said. “Don’t worry.”
      “They’re on the house,” said Yuliya, dropping three pound coins on the table.
      “Nah, they were good eggs.”
      “I think she’s an engineer,” she heard him say on the way out. “The Dutronc installation?”
      “Bull’s-eye,” said his friend.


Groin vault

Analogous to the heart soaring, a squared unit formed by the intersection at right angles of two barrel vaults.

She is Natasha-Rostova-gray-eyed, with a patrician straightness of facial features and thickly arched brows. They are running-talking down Brick Lane and consider Spitalfields or mending something or eating curry. At the Tower of London—craving height—they sit in St. John’s Chapel. The room glows with locking high barrel vaults, roughly hewn arches, massive columns.
      “I was an altar boy,” says Gregory.
      “Did the priest spank you over his lap?” Yuliya asks.
      “Every day.”
      “Where are you from?”
      “Pittsburgh. Paris till I was six, but my parents were from Québec.”
      “I had a French girlfriend in Egypt and had to end it. I didn’t like being foreign. So London.”
      She has nothing to say to this, but after a moment shoves her tongue down his throat and pulls down his zipper. Life, thinks Gregory, in an ancient tourist monstrosity. But suddenly she bites his chin and breaks away.
      “I should go,” she says, and does.



Of the electrostatic charge between oppositely charged ions in the sixth century.

Later that week she is in his kitchen, naked, talking. She has been crowned by curly black acanthus leaves, and the volutes of her shoulders tuck under as she crosses her arms in the cold. He buries his face in her hair before carrying her to the sofa, a flat, blonde thing with fluting in the frame. Her hands stroke the corrugated surface, and she whispers in his favorite ear:
      “When is Karin back from Finland?”
      “So the beautiful woman in the draped dress standing in the front doorway staring at us isn’t her?” Yuliya excuses herself and closes the bedroom door to get dressed.



An arcaded structure accessible from the interior, providing eyes.

At museums they asked each other what they liked and were always let down, spiraling away from each other in a kind of place ballet. Even in Florence, bouleversement-averse Yuliya gazed through paintings. Excessive beauty made her recoil with anxiety. Gregory thought she admired the statues with knots of bone and flesh and wing and bronze; Medusa’s gory head in Perseus’s palm, the Sabine woman whirling in her attackers’ clutches, Menelaus grieving Patroclus’s limp body, until he knew she didn’t.
      “Beautiful,” she said, as at the Uffizi, the Accademia, the Piazzale Michelangelo, and Peretola Airport.
      “Do you really mean that?”
      Yuliya laughed. They passed a lemony wall of restaurants across the Piazza della Signoria. “Can we have coffee?” she asked. The menu was in eight languages. Gregory obliged and ordered espresso and biscotti. She asked for a latte in English.
      “Same thing in Italian,” said Gregory.
      “I can still have a vat of milk, right?” she asked. “It’s eleven.”
      “Here anything goes.”
      “My disdain turns you mad with lust?”
      “No,” said Yuliya. “Precisely the opposite.”



A mossy patina of rusty growth on brass or copper surfaces.

Gregory, a Midwesterner, adored rust; the blue-green work of oxygen calcifying like ocean around the nails on copper pots. Alex instructed Gregory not to come to his wedding. Yuliya said he could come if he wished, but didn’t understand why he would. Then her mother said she was delighted such a gregarious man could tolerate her daughter. Gamely he posed at the Statue of Liberty with Yuliya’s relatives. Masha and Sonia on his left. Yuliya and Alex and Lara and Lev and Vlad and Larisa and Misha and Yana on his right.
      At the reception, Alex raised a glass “to Gregory’s Catholic guilt!” Everyone laughed, because no one knew who he was.
      Yuliya sat outside smoking against a tree on the cold ground. Gregory asked her to waltz. She obliged. Usually she said being a bad dancer highlighted how bad at life she was. She wore on her right ring finger a thin strip of metal he’d brought ten years before from the Russian-Kazakh border. He saw flecks of red in it and the slight swelling of her skin.

Monica Datta’s work has appeared several times in Conjunctions' print and online editions, as well as in The Collagist.